Suicide Squad and the Hollywood double standard
Suicide Squad shattered the August box office records, raking in $135 million for the biggest August opening weekend, breaking Guardians of the Galaxy’s previous record of $94.1 million. (And oh, is everyone at Warner Brothers ecstatic to take down a Marvel record.) Box office numbers can mean anything you want them to mean, and devoid of any context, $135 million is a GREAT opening weekend—the X-Men would have killed for this number—and everyone likes the “record breaking” headlines. But when you start putting Suicide Squad into context, well, we’re basically in a repeat of what happened to Superhero Face Punch.
Yes, the movie opened big. But the audience awarded it a B+ CinemaScore, which means a bunch of people didn’t like it. Remember, on the CinemaScore scale a C is basically an F, so anything in the B-range isn’t awesome. Other B+ movies include The Amazing Spider-Man 2—which was considered a failure and caused its studio, Sony, to push the panic button—and the other new movie this weekend, Nine Lives, which is quite possibly the worst movie I have EVER seen. And between the dismal reviews and unenthusiastic word of mouth, Suicide Squad is looking at a second week drop of 60% or more. That means that, just like Superhero Face Punch, Suicide Squad is going to have to work very hard to meet even the bare minimum of expectations.
And those expectations are made of lies, because—just like Superhero Face Punch!—the expenses for Suicide Squad are WAY under-reported. On the record it cost $175 million to make, which is HILARIOUS—it’s closer to $250 million than anyone at Warners wants to admit—and the marketing spend was insane. Warners says they’ll be happy with anything in the $750-800 million range, but if Suicide Squad hits the high end of the second week drop estimate (65%), and given that China passed on releasing this movie, they’ll struggle to get to even that baseline $750 million.
Suicide Squad is repeating the problem Superhero Face Punch had—curiosity got everyone out on opening weekend, but no one really liked what they saw. But it also bears a striking resemblance to another divisive movie this summer: Ghostbusters. The audiences went the same way on these two movies—both movies got B+ CinemaScores. Both movies rated higher among women and kids than men, with women, particularly, rating the movies favorably. And whatever face the studios put on it publicly, the theatrical returns are such that merchandising is the saving grace of both movies.
But Ghostbusters has yet to get a sequel, while the future of Suicide Squad is assured. Like Lainey wrote last week, Suicide Squad will do well enough that Warners can at least put a good face on it for the public and go ahead with more Squad movies. But I do wonder about the fate of that Harley Quinn spin-off Margot Robbie previously got approved. Does Warners look at the audience demographics of Suicide Squad and see that diversity was their saving grace—black and Latino audiences drove the opening weekend box office, and women saved it from a lower audience approval rating—or do they look at the disappointed fanboys and think they need to cater to the people launching petitions complaining about critics?
Female-led movies don’t get do-overs. Ghostbusters was culturally divisive and financially tepid. The IP is too valuable for Sony to let it sit on the shelf, but when they make the call for the next installment in the franchise, is it to give the ladies another go-round, or do they call Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill to make a bro version? Likewise, Warners will undoubtedly okay more Squad, but do they prioritize Robbie’s Harley movie? Or do they throw a bunch of money at Ben Affleck to get The Batman out of him faster? I’d like to think that Warners will look at the Suicide Squad numbers as a sign of underserved audiences hungry for more, but I’m afraid all they’ll see is evidence of what happens when they don’t cater to boys.